Blue White Illustrated

December 2023

Penn State Sports Magazine

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Page 50 of 67

D E C E M B E R 2 0 2 3 51 W W W . B L U E W H I T E O N L I N E . C O M E D I T O R I A L M AT T H E R B M AT T. H E R B @ O N 3 . C O M E ven as someone who's generally skeptical of the need for continent- spanning, made-for-TV megacon- ferences, I couldn't help but feel a few pangs of excitement upon seeing Penn State's recently unveiled 2024 schedule, which includes visits to Beaver Stadium by UCLA and Washington. There's something about having actual dates attached to those games that makes them seem real in a way that seeing the list of upcoming opponents, which was released in early October, did not. The Bruins haven't traveled to State College since the early days of the Joe Paterno coaching era — Oct. 7, 1967, to be exact. The Nittany Lions gave up a touchdown on a blocked punt and lost that game 17-15. On Oct. 5, 2024, they'll finally have their chance at revenge. The Huskies, meanwhile, have never been to Penn State, even though their program was established in 1889. The only time the two teams have met in the regular season was in 1921 in Se- attle, a game won by the visitors, 21-7. That lengthy hiatus will end on Nov. 9, 2024, when coach Kalen DeBoer leads the Huskies into the Lions' den, albeit without NFL-bound quarterback Mi- chael Penix Jr. Having DeBoer and his UCLA coun- terpart Chip Kelly in the Beav for the first time is going to be a thrill, and those matchups against the Huskies and Bruins aren't the only transcontinental games on PSU's upcoming slate. On Oct. 12, there's going to be a visit to USC, a place Penn State hasn't been since fall- ing to the Trojans 21-10 at the Coliseum in 1991. The next few seasons of Penn State football are going to be full of interesting novelties — a visit from Oregon in 2025, a trip back to Seattle in 2026 to face Wash- ington, a first-ever appearance in the Ducks' home, Autzen Stadium, in 2027. Even us aging traditionalists can see the appeal of games like that. And while I'm in a generous pre- holiday mood, I'll concede that the Big Ten's impending western expansion did something else that was positive: It forced the league to scrap an egregiously unbalanced divisional structure that has made the Big Ten Championship Game an anticlimactic snooze. For the better part of the past decade, Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State have battled for the right to represent the East against whichever middling op- ponent emerges from the West Division's drunken barfight with the fewest contu- sions. No team from the West has won the title game since the Leaders and Legends divisions were realigned in 2014, and it's been six years since the league's early- December prime-time showcase was decided by a single-digit margin. The current East-West split can't disappear soon enough, and in less than a month it will — presumably after Ohio State or Michigan has won the championship by at least a couple of touchdowns. But enough positivity. While the Big Ten's impending changes are certain to lend some excitement and unpredict- ability to upcoming seasons, they are not without their drawbacks. In exchange for these new matchups in an expanded conference, Penn State is giving up its annual games against Ohio State and Michigan. Considering the way those series have gone since the latter years of the Paterno era, there's a case to be made that PSU is better off not playing the Wolverines and Buck- eyes every season. But with Michigan disappearing in 2024 and Ohio State in 2026, it's also possible that those matchups will start to feel less like rival- ries and more like recurring nonconfer- ence matchups. Penn State is the only team in the Big Ten without any protected rivalry games, which means that its future schedules are going to be even more random than those of its compatriots. Ohio State and Michigan will continue to play each other annually, of course, and some of the Big Ten's other season-ending re- gional rivalries (Illinois-Northwestern, Purdue-Indiana, Nebraska-Iowa) have been preserved, but Penn State could end up facing anyone at any time. Maybe that, too, is for the best. One of the Nittany Lions' problems since joining the Big Ten has been that their conference rivalries are all asymmetri- cal. Michigan and Ohio State are too preoccupied with each other to care about Penn State the way Penn State cares about them. And the reverse holds true with PSU's regional rivals, Mary- land and Rutgers. The fear and loathing that supporters of those teams have for Penn State — a byproduct of PSU's combined 75-5-1 record against them — will never be reciprocated by Nittany Lion fans. Those relationships will grow even more attenuated when Big Ten teams start meeting each other less frequently. A year from now, they'll be part of a sprawling conglomeration of attractive TV properties, with 18 teams playing games across three time zones. It's likely to be a ratings bonanza. But will it really be a conference? ■ Beaver Stadium will play host to a pair of unfamiliar opponents next year, with UCLA and Washington set to visit State College. PHOTO BY STEVE MANUEL Penn State's 2024 Schedule Inspires Mixed Feelings VARSITY VIEWS

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